Turkish soft power: More soft than powerful

Turkish soft power: More soft than powerful

Ishaan Tharoor wrote in the Time magazine: “Two years later [today], Turkey’s vaunted soft power looks more soft than powerful… Erdoğan, too, cuts a smaller, humbler figure on the world stage… His overwhelming support for the Syrian opposition is not mirrored by the majority of the Turkish public, and his reliance on other foreign powers to push the diplomatic envelope has resulted in something of a loss of face.” It seems that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “terrorist opponents” have been able to infiltrate the world’s most prominent publications.

At the opposite end of the world’s political spectrum, Ali Qaemmaqami in the Tehran Times called the terrorist attacks on civilian targets in Reyhanlı on May 11 “a plot by Turkey and Israel to weaken the Syrian government and facilitate military intervention.” According to Mr. Qaemmaqami, “Ankara is ready to do anything to escalate the crisis, even kill its own citizens.” The claim could be grossly insane, but the Persian message is crystal-clear: given all the unpleasant geopolitical realities, Mr. Erdoğan does not look to be fighting a winning war.

But not all Iranians do give everyone fright. For instance, after Fathali M. Moghaddam, an Iranian professor at the Georgetown University, kindly presented Mrs. Emine Erdoğan with one of his books, “The Psychology of Dictatorship,” fellow columnist Robert Ellis commented, no doubt with a smiling face, “At least there is one Iranian with a sense of occasion.”

And according to prominent world affairs journalist and broadcaster Neil Clark, the bomb attacks in Reyhanlı were “a sort of blowback time” for Mr. Erdoğan’s “colossal blunder” in Syria. “I hope I am wrong, but we are going to see more bombings, I am afraid,” the commentator told, not accidentally, “Russia” Today. Mr. Clark’s account of the Turkish engagement in Syria over the past two years was perfectly compact, precise and realistic: “Erdoğan took a gamble in August 2011, believing that the Syrian government would fall very shortly and that there’ll be a very nice Islamist government in power in Damascus that’ll be very friendly to Turkey. It backfired.”

I very much hope Mr. Clark is wrong in his guess about more bombings, although common wisdom says he is probably not. Despite failure after failure, Mr. Erdoğan does not seem to understand that he cannot drag his friends in Washington into “his” war with Syria, with Iran, Russia and China involved in every means possible, just because the Dictator of Damascus, who apparently possesses an arsenal of weapons more annoying than ageing tanks and artillery, has become “the stone in his shoe,” as the Sicilians say.

Hugh Pope’s account is not much jollier. In an interview with Hürriyet, the International Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus director said: “This [Syrian] crisis has revealed that Turkey does not possess a critical diplomatic/military pressure mechanism to single-handedly change anything in the region. … Unfortunately, Turkey has lost its powerful and unbiased position from five years ago when it was able to communicate with everyone.”

What are Mr. Erdoğan’s options? Other than blaming the crawling civil war in Syria “on Turkish media,” he still talks of all sorts of U.N.-related opportunities, probably causing loud laughter in important meeting rooms in Tehran, Moscow and Beijing. Other than that, he has most recently proposed a new action plan in which “the representatives of Islam, Christianity and Judaism should come together and give a common message to the world about how to stop the bloodshed in Syria.” And if this “critical role” and other means turned out to be useless, “war would mean justice.” War!

Apparently, Mr. Erdoğan wants the big powers – which he often says are unwanted in our region – to take out the stone in his shoe for him because he alone cannot.

Esteemed prime minister: You cannot convince anyone that you really spend sleepless nights because Syrian civilians are dying when you absurdly denied that there were war crimes being committed in Sudan even though hundreds of thousands of human beings were killed. Syria has become your personal vendetta for which you depressingly need the might of “Christian powers” against (Shiite) Muslim targets.

I still hope that Mrs. Erdoğan, who is famous for being a gentle and caring lady, might give the prime minister some sensible advice after having read “The Psychology of Dictatorship.”